I had wanted to respond to Jack Kelly's column last Sunday, although with one thing and another I have been rather busy this week. But it has been on my mind. One thing I have found in looking at Jack Kelly's particular style of writing is that while he doesn't necessarily out and out lie, he certainly twists and/or cheery picks facts, omits other important information, and repeats other peoples lies (thus giving him an out). I didn't do a whole lot of research, looking at Kelly's education column, though. I read (or probably re-read) the Paul Krugman column he cites, and glanced a bit at the NAEP, which was not particularly illuminating.
But I don't really think I need much research to address Kelly's arguments, simple logic will do. For example, the Krugman column said simply that Texas schools have this high drop out rate (43 out of 50). Kelly does not dispute this point, rather he
gives us cherry picked numbers: "According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, fourth- and eighth-graders in Texas score substantially better in reading and math than do their counterparts in Chicago. The high school graduation rate in Texas (73 percent) is much better than Chicago's (56 percent)." Kelly also says that 3 of the top ten high schools in the country are in Texas (according to Newsweek).
Now consider a comparison between, say, the Mt Lebanon and the City of Pittsburgh school districts. Mt Lebanon might have a lower tax rate, but higher revenue stream because the home values are so much higher. Mt Lebanon teachers might be unionized or not, might or might not be higher paid. But Pittsburgh school teachers might be assigned to some literally dangerous schools to teach in, something Mt Lebanon teachers likely would not face. And Mt Lebanon students likely do better on average and at the margins than Pittsburgh students do.
That Texas as a whole would do better than the City of Chicago should not be a surprise. The City would have large numbers of ghetto students, and the best students of an ethnicity in the City limits might well go to private schools. A whole state includes wealthy communities that would pull the averages upward. Kelly is comparing one apple (and a pretty beat up one at that) to the average of a whole apple tree.
Kelly also quotes David Burge, whom I know nothing about. The best I can say is he appears to be contemptuous of Paul Krugman (rather like Jack Kelly). Maybe the stats he quotes about Texas versus Wisconsin are accurate, possibly even relevant. But since Burge is also quoting someone else's work, I will take it all with a grain of salt.
But, as it happens, it may not matter. Kelly's main idea is that unionized teachers don't want to teach. I don't see where Burge or Kelly has made that case, comparing particular states to each other, or to particular cities. Kelly ends with this paragraph: "The unionization, centralization and politicization of education may have been the biggest mistake we've made in the last half-century. We should take control of schools away from unions and Washington bureaucrats, and restore it to parents and local governments." Actually, as far as centralization is concerned, what he describes does not exist now. The fact the Texas can be compared to Wisconsin or Chicago proves it. States and local governments already control education. The politicization part is no more the fault of Wisconsin or Washington, DC than it is of Austin, Texas (or Kansas, for that matter). Deciding to over-rule accepted science happens at the local or state level.
As for unionization, well, how much should the people who educate our kids, who basically determine a fair bit of the future of our nation, be paid? For that matter, how much should cops, firefighters or paramedics, the people who run into places we run out of, who help us when things are dark and terrible, get paid?
According to Jack Kelly, apparently not much.